A study of the relationship between mystical experience, schizotypy and clinical psychosis Steven Dark (1995)
The incidence of intense mystical, spiritual or religious experience appears to be significantly high and relatively normal occurring in the normal population spontaneously, frequently outside the context of religious or other social groups (Greeley, 1975; Hay 1979). Since such experiences appear to share similar phenomenological features to schizotypy and clinical psychosis and in line with the recent trend in the detection and measurement of schizotypal and psychotic traits in the normal population the present study is concerned demonstrating the proposed dimensionality of such traits and their relationship to “mystical” or “unusual” experiences. This study, in part a replication of Stifler et al’s (1993), is an investigation into the relationship between mystical experience, schizotypy and clinical psychosis, comparing the self-report of mystical experience with schizotypal and psychotic traits. Hood’s M-Scale, Knoblauch’s Ego Grasping Orientation (EGO) Inventory and a new scale, the Oxford-Liverpool Inventory of Feelings and Experiences (O-LIFE), (Mason, Claridge and Jackson, 1995), were administered to 33 Ss categorised into one of three groups – ‘Normals’, ‘Mystics’, and ‘Psychotics’. Predicted results are 1) that ‘psychotics’ and ‘mystics’ will score more highly for ‘mysticism’ and ‘unusual experience’. These two groups taken together are discriminated from ‘normals’ but not from each other. Secondly, the dimensional nature of schizotypal traits suggests a normal distribution so no significant differences between the three groups on scales measuring schizotypal traits are expected Results demonstrate no significant differences between groups of Ss on subscales for borderline schizotypy (STB) while ‘mystics’ score significantly higher than ‘normals’ on schizotypy, suggesting some evidence for the distribution of schizotypal traits. Principal component analysis, factor extraction and Varimax rotation were carried out on the data in an attempt to identify the factorial structure across the subscales. The first analysis excluded scores derived from the STA, STB and UnEx scales and yielded a four factor solution accounting for 77.8 per cent of the total variance. A second factor analysis for all 13 subscales also extracted four factored accounting for 75.6 per cent of the total variance. A discriminant analysis correctly classified 100 per cent of the cases. Overall there is some evidence, in line with similar studies, concerning the two central hypotheses that there appears to be a significant correlation between schizotypy, psychotic traits and mystical or unusual experiences and that schizotypy is normally distributed in the general population. There is some support for the suggestion that a common schizotypal personality trait may underlie both experiences.
A review of the literature suggests that the incidence of self-defined symptomatic forms of intense mystical, spiritual or religious experience appears to be significantly high and relatively normal occurring in the general population spontaneously, frequently outside the context of religious or other social groups (Greeley, 1975; Hay and Morisy, 1978; Tisdale, 1975). They are usually benign but are often considered pathological. Studies may be divided into accounts of spiritual experience represented by description of mystics or psychosis by accounts of psychiatric patients neither of which are informative of the experience itself or the nature of common experiences reported by a normal population. Since any experience within a religious or spiritual framework may be described as mystical in a broad sense it is assumed that an ASC is involved and that such experiences appear to be generally benign with long term positive effects. Various definitions include unusual experiences that may be ‘psychic’ or of an ESP nature (telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance etc.) apparitions, OOBE, the presence of a supraordinate being and general feelings of metaphysical insight, pantheism and feelings of unity with a larger whole.
Within the history of mysticism there is the known phenomena of “divine madness”; many mystics have been considered mad; Theresa of Avilsa, Hildergarde of Bingen, Augustine, Ignatius Loyola, Meister Eckhart, John the Baptist and even Jesus. At the same time there have been psychotically disturbed individuals who have referred to their psychotic experience in religious and mystical terms. There is a difficulty in discerning between mystical experience and psychotic states. `It is easy to confuse religious mystics with psychotic patients, especially those psychotics who have hallucinations and delusions with religious content’ (Arieti, 1967)1.
Mystical experience has usually been interpreted by those who consider it to be the ultimate transcendental experience. Though the experience is said to be ineffable there are detailed and often lengthy accounts which, despite the separation of time, religion and culture, exhibit remarkable consistency2. One of the earliest extant accounts of a mystical experience is to be found in St. Augustine’s Confessions. Comparison of this with Custance’s (1952) description of his psychosis demonstrates a high degree of verisimilitude. Both accounts express a number of notable features; the feeling of being transported beyond the self to a new realm, the experience of ecstasy and a heightened state of awareness.
Empirical research in this area spans more than a century of psychology, relating religion, personality and abnormality. The principal argument of early psychologists was that mystics misinterpreted their experience though the nature of this misinterpretation varied according to the researcher. There was some agreement, however, that mystical experience is either pathological in itself, or tainted with pathological characteristics. Mystical experience may “in form and context, reflect abnormal states of mind” (Spilka, Hood and Gorusch, 1985) and Greeley (1974) summarised the notion that “mystics are badly disoriented personalities.” Freud claimed such experiences to be regressive or ‘oceanic’ experience of an early infantile encounter with the world while Jung, reinterpreting Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality, saw religion as the response to the desire to achieve a psychological rebirth or creation of a new `self.’ Others made a positive evaluation of such experiences, notably James (1902) and Otto who attempted to define such experiences in terms of the idea of the ‘Holy’ – that which evokes in the psyche an emotive or intuitive experience of the Mysteruyn tremendum et fascinans – and coined the term ‘numinosity.’
The empirical study of mystical experience begins with the foundation laid by the philosopher W. T. Stace (1961) whose seminal work outlined the basic criteria for identifying mystical experience. The measurement of such experiences has been made possible by the development of scales derived directly or indirectly from Stace’s criteria. The criteria proposed by Stace forms the basis of one of the most widely used measurement of mystical experience, Hood’s (1975) M-Scale, which taps eight categories of mysticism and the range of phenomenological criteria (unity, timelessness, spacelessness) and religious interpretation factor (positive affect and noetic quality) associated with such experiences. Both of these are derived from principal component analysis, Factor 1 appears to identify the minimal phenomenological experience and Factor 2 the religious interpretation (Hood, 1975; Spilka, Hood and Gorsuch, 1985). Recent replications (Caird, 1988) of Stifler et al’s study (Stifler, Greer, Sneck and Dovenmuehle, 1993) suggested that a three factor model represents the data more accurately. While Factor 1 remained stable the Interpretative category divided into Noetic/Ineffability (Factor 2) and Religious (Factor 3) types of interpretation. This is supported by Reinert and Stifler (1993) who found in their factor-analytical replication that Caird’s suggestion of a three factor solution better represents the data.
Clinical Psychosis has frequently been cited as evincing religious symptomatology (Jasper, 1963; Ludwig, 1980; Tyrer and Shopsin, 1982). Patients with schizophrenic symptoms often exhibit delusions with a religious or sexual quality. It has been suggested that mystical experience is constant for both the schizophrenic and the non-schizophrenic subject. The distinction resides in the manner of interpretation (noetic factor) and in the utilisation of the experience not in the experience itself. Psychotic delusion is a distortion of reality while authentic mystical experience is frequently interwoven with superstition and metaphysical speculation viz. the relation between religion and magic or superstition is regarded as an attempt to control or coerce benign or malevolent forces. If religious delusion functions to provide support for the intense emotional needs of the psychotic (Goold, 1991) then mystical experience may serve a similar function for certain individuals. It is interesting to note religious ideas are more likely to be implicated in cases of affective disorder or paranoid schizophrenia than other forms of psychiatric disorder (Beit-Hallahmi and Argyle, 1977).
Psychosis demonstrates a heterogeneity which continually foils psychiatric attempts to clarify a single disorder – primary mood disorders, schizophrenic spectrum disorders predominantly cognitive with schizophrenic-affective disorder somewhere between the two. Some disorders are characterised by positive symptoms (delusions and hallucinations) others involve primary negative symptoms (low affect, withdrawal etc.). This state of affairs has prompted some clinicians to suggest that the concept of schizophrenia should be abandoned (Szasz, Laing, Bentall). Even by clinical standards chronic schizophrenic accounts for perhaps only 1 per cent of the total psychiatric population while the entire schizophrenic spectrum accounts for perhaps 5 per cent (DSM-IIIR : APA, 1987).
There has been, in recent years, two developing themes in schizophrenia research. One is the manifestation of ‘psychotic’ characteristics in the non-psychiatric population and their measurement using scales which, unlike the E.P.Q. draw their items from the clinical symptomatology of psychosis (Claridge and Broks, 1984; Bentall, Claridge and Slade, 1989; Raine and Allbutt, 1989). The second theme is the proposed biological basis of individual differences in ‘schizotypy’ (Claridge and Broks, 1984). Evidence is emerging, concerning the dimensionality of psychotic-like characteristics, from the observation that some individuals demonstrate abnormalities of personality that phenomenologically resemble psychosis but which are too mild or transient to be considered psychiatric. Genetic research suggests that in most cases of schizophrenia a vulnerability to psychotic breakdown in the form of a graded trait or set of traits under multigenic control and widely distributed to varying degrees in the normal population (Gottesman and Shields, 19823; Bentall, Claridge and Slade, 1989). The ambiguity and arbitrariness of diagnostic categories and definitions of ‘illness’ and ‘health’ has led some to argue that there may be a continuum between schizophrenia(s) and various borderline personality states (Claridge, 1985).4
Schizotypy, usually defined as a personality disorder characterised by markedly eccentric and erratic thought, speech and behaviour. with a tendency to withdraw from others, appears to be similar to, but less severe than, schizophrenia. Although it is sometimes classified as borderline schizophrenia and is to be distinguished from schizoid personality disorder where eccentricities of thought; speech and behaviour are not present, it is doubtful that schizotypy per se is an illness or should even be classified as a disorder.
Numerous scales for the detection and measurement of schizotypy have been constructed in the attempt to measure aspects of personality relevant to the predisposition towards psychoticism, schizophrenia in particular. The psychometric properties of many of these scales have been criticised in terms of the skewed nature of what are essentially symptom-like scales (Claridge, 1983; Bentall, Claridge and Slade, 1989: Claridge, McCreery, Mason, Bentall, Boyle, Slade and Popplesell; Mason, Claridge and Jackson, 1995).
Claridge’s STA and STB scales, constructed to reflect DSM III-R criteria for schizotypy and BPD. respectively, are broad and heterogeneous but since important schizotypal traits like anhedonia are not included in DSM III-R they are absent in these scales. This deficiency has led to the development of the Combined Schizotypal Traits Questionnaire (CSTQ) (Bentall et al, 1989). A revised version of the CSTQ is now available and renamed the Oxford-Liverpool Inventory of Feelings and Experiences (O-LIFE). Factor analysis of the CSTQ has led to the development of new scales for the assessment of schizotypy. The scales were constructed to maximise food psychometric properties and measure each aspect of schizotypy as clearly as possible (Mason,. Claridge and Jackson, 1995).
If schizotypy is distributed normally in the general population then it is reasonable to assume that some Ss will exhibit high schizotypal traits and it is these individuals who may be prone to schizophrenia if other predisposing factors are present. The detection and measurement of schizotypal traits may therefore provide a suitable method for screening individuals prior to the mean age for onset usually, that is 28 for men and 33 for women, if, for example, it is present within close blood-relations and other such factors as may be implicated, are taken into consideration.
To summarise, the suggested dimensionality of psychotic traits implies that schizotypy may not present a clinical disorder but would form a useful diagnostic feature of an overall collection of factors that function to predispose some individuals to developing full psychosis. The psychometric detection and measurement of psychotic traits such as schizotypy and BPD may lead to a set of diagnostic screening procedures to identify those individuals at risk of developing more serious psychotic disorders.
The phenomenology of acute states
The phenomenology of acute states includes perceptual, cognitive and affective features. The hallucinatory or delusional nature of both psychotic and spiritual experiences is open to debate since not all experiences involve anomalous perceptual phenomenon and Stace’s (1960) definition of mystical experience explicitly excludes experiences of visions or voices while Crow’s (1980) concept of ‘type 2’ schizophrenia stresses the lack of positive symptoms such as hallucinations which in themselves are not symptomatic of delusional disorder (DSM-IIIR). Auditory hallucinations appear to be more common in chronic schizophrenia though visual hallucinations are not unknown in the early stages (Chapman, 1966; Freedman and Chapman, 1973). Schizophrenic hallucinations are usually auditory while in mystical experiences they are usually visual (e.g. Arieti, 1976). Not all experiences therefore involve hallucination. Delusions on the other hand are intrinsic positive symptoms of all psychoses although they do not occur in some symptom subcategories of predominantly negative symptomatology, ‘type 2’ schizophrenia, for example. Delusions may be distinguished as primary delusions which occur spontaneously and out of context which may have more in common with mystical experience than secondary delusions which are the result of anomalous perceptual experiences. The essential difference between true mystical experience and psychotic delusion may lie in the quality of belief. Delusions have more emotionally negative connotations, are more self-centred and involve a decrease rather than increase in the integration of the ego (Hood, 1974). Szazz (1979) suggests that both religious and schizophrenic beliefs are ‘literalised metaphors’ the main difference being their social legitimacy. Definitions of such experiences are limited to their cultural context and there is a strong argument for the suggestion that beliefs formed in some spiritual and psychotic experience may be significantly similar. While they may overlap, it is unlikely that they are identical. The majority of symptoms of delusion may not be plausible features of spiritual experience.
Other abnormalities of perception are shared by mental disorder and mystical experiences, heightened perception, for example and altered perception of time has been used as a defining feature of mystical experience (Stace, 1960). While not symptomatic of schizophrenia a ‘sense of presence’ considered by Otto (1950) as a primary characteristic of mystical experience is also one of the defining diagnostic symptoms of schizophrenic personality disorder: ‘Unusual perceptual experiences, e.g. illusions, sensing the presence of a force or person not actually present…’. This may be considered as a precipating symptom of more florid delusional states or depending upon context and interpretation, ascribed to ‘divine guidance.’ Hallucination and delusion are positive symptoms which are context sensitive to a significant extent so they may be considered either pathological or visionary depending upon the form and content of the experience and the socio-cultural context in which they occur.
The essence of mystical experience suggested by James (1902) is its intense ‘noetic quality’ and ineffability and Stace included this in his criteria. Mystical experience in all its forms has a profound and significant effect upon the individual. The effects of such experiences are isolation and fear initially, although some individuals exaggerate their sense of self-esteem to proportions of grandeur so that they would qualify as suffering religious delusions. Such delusions are not uncommon within the schizophrenia spectrum and schizophreniform disorders.
Affective disturbance, one of the primary negative symptoms of schizophrenia, may be either ‘low affect’ or ‘inappropriate’ does not seem to be a feature of mystical experience while the elevation of mood or mania is an affective symptom frequently reported in mystical experiences. The qualitative difference between the euphoria of mystical experience and psychotic mania seems to be the more negative, anxious and fearful, feeling which is not present in mystical experience.
The decathexis of the ego-boundaries is a fundamental distinction in schizophrenia while dissociative experiences are also characteristic of hysterical and borderline states. The loss of the self-object dichotomy is common to both mystical experience and acute states of psychosis, often accompanied by a sense of time distortion. In his study of mysticism Happold notes that the mystical experience frequently presents a new vision of the phenomenal world `as if there had been an abnormal sharpening of the senses.’5 The goal of diverse religious and mystical experiences is the transcendence of the self-object dichotomy and may be the intrinsic feature of the authentic mystical experience (Stace, 1960). Happold (1963) distinguishes between ‘nature, ‘soul’ and ‘God’ mysticism in terms of the object with which the mystic achieves unity though each involves the loss of the sense of self. States of depersonalisation are often described in terms of spatial metaphor – being in a different dimension or on another level or plane etc. Such descriptions of ASC express the feeling of remoteness from ordinary reality which seems to be a feature common to both mystical experience and psychosis.
The self-presentation of the psychotic parallels the self-presentation of the religious mystic in the subjective description of the actual experience. There is a problem of definition of mystical experience as it is a term used to refer to a range of altered states of consciousness (ASC). The criteria proposed by Stace (1960) forms the basis of the most widely used measurement of mystical experience, Hood’s M-scale. Stace’s criteria include the most notable points identified by others (James, 1936; Otto, 1923; Underhill 1975; Zaehner, 1967) – ineffability, alteration of spatio-temporal perception, numinosity, positive affective states, brevity of the experience, unitive quality, transcendence and absorption of the self into a greater whole. Such are the phenomenological features of mystical experience; in the context of this study, it is proposed that such phenomenological features are common to mystical experience and psychotic states.
Methodology and definitions
Research in the area of mystical experience is hindered by a lack of uniformity regarding definitions, methodology and instrumentation. Some measure of shared agreement concerning definition and methodology is required. The two exceptions to the lack of shared instrumentation are Hood’s M-Scale (Hood, 1975) which has been perhaps the most widely used instrument in the area and the inclusion of scale items from survey research by Greeley (1975) and the Gallup Poll organisation over a sixteen year period and across cultures. A major problem in the study of transpersonal states is the wide degree of conceptual variability between researchers. Mystical experience has been defined variously according to the context in which it is studied. Most of the terms, religious, spiritual, cosmic, transcendent, visionary, revelationary, psychedelic, peak, ecstatic, oceanic, transpersonal, noetic are unhelpful carrying emotionally loaded value laden connotations. Paffard (1973) suggests `we need a category of “the spiritual”, but divested of myth and super naturalistic connotations, for our highest experiences of ecstasy and awe, our deepest intuitions of value, which somehow seem “in another dimension”‘6 In the context of the present study the term mystical is used throughout to refer to any valid and meaningful transpersonal or unusual experience characterised by any or all of the phenomenological features previously outlined, namely ineffability, alteration of perception, numinosity, positive affect, unitive quality, transcendence and absorption of the self into a greater whole.
Despite the problems of definition, and lack of shared methodology or instrumentation, the area of ‘mysticism and madness’ though not easily accessible to empirical investigation, may be accommodated within the empirical paradigm comfortably with a little ingenuity. Mystical and psychotic experiences may be observed indirectly by their known effects and a posteriori via self-report and since research is possible only on the self-descriptions of these experiences and not the experience directly there are some insurmountable restrictions on research in this area. Contextual factors influence the form and content of subjects experiences, the way they are described and interpreted. Expectations, situational context and retrospective inferences combine with mood and personality as aspects of data derived from research. Since the intrinsic experience is clearly not accessible directly to empirical investigation the relationship between mystical experience and psychosis is far from clear and no firm conclusions can be drawn without further research. However, mystical and psychotic experiences appear to share sufficiently similar phenomenological features to justify further investigation.
An empirical design to explore the relationship of mysticism and psychosis needs to measure the similarities and differences between the two. Stifler et al (1993) measured the reported mystical experiences, narcissistic personality traits and ego-grasping orientation of psychotics and contemplatives using Raskin and Hall’s (1979) Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) to test the hypothesis that ‘mystics’ should be characterised by a reduction in selfish personal interest or narcissistic trends while others would be more likely characterised by self-centredness and a limited empathetic understanding. Another discriminating variable considered important was ‘Ego-grasping orientation’ since it is a construct indirectly related to critical components latent in nearly all forms of spirituality. Knoblauch (1985) introduced the term to encompass a personality dimension related to the Taoist philosophical notion of wu-wei (“non-doing), te (spiritual power ), and yin-yang (integration). The greater the ‘ego-grasping’ (need to control oneself and environment), the lesser one has spiritual vitality. Knoblauch & Falconer (1986) claim ego-grasping orientation appears to be negatively correlated to measures of generalised well-being.
In line with recent research various scales for the psychometric detection of psychotic traits in the normal population have been developed which unlike scales such as the EPQ draw their items from the diagnostic symptomatology of clinical psychosis. Claridge’s STA and STB and the Chapman scales measure various psychotic personality traits – schizotypy (STA), BPD (STB), Perceptual Aberration, Magical Ideation, Social Anhedonia, Physical Anhedonia, Hypomania, Hallucination (LSHS) and so on. The unwieldy nature and time required of Ss to complete a battery of such scales has prompted the development of a single questionnaire from factor analysis of a large number of existing scales. The CSTQ, which in its revised form (CSTQ-R) is now known as the O-LIFE combines many of the items from the scales mentioned above which measure a more manageable number of correlated dimensional traits; unusual experiences (UnEx), cognitive disorganisation, introvertive anhedonia (IntAn) and impulsive nonconformity (ImpNon). The new scale is used in this study to measure any correlation between these traits and mystical experience as measured by the M-Scale and relative psychological adjustment or ego-grasping orientation as measured by Knoblauch’ EGO inventory.
The extent to which the measures on each of the 13 subscales are theoretically and methodologically independent is an open question. As expected the M-Scale and UnEx are positively correlated though it cannot necessarily be safely assumed that they both measure the same features of these experiences.
Summary and hypotheses
The similarity between psychotic states and spiritual or mystical experience was acknowledged by William James (1936) who considered religious mysticism to be one half of the mystical stream and insanity the other ‘diabolical’ half of mysticism. Both mystical experience and psychosis begin with an unordinary state of consciousness where ordinary analytic thinking has lost its dominance; `The central nervous system appears to possess a latent capacity…for a patter of functioning, which experientially is human psychotic consciousness’ (Bowers, 1973).7 Claridge (1972, 1987) proposes that schizophrenia represents an aberration of CNS processes that underlie cognitive and personality characteristics which can be observed in many normal Ss. If a mystical experience is founded upon the same CNS processes then the implication is that the concomitant cognitive processes and personality characteristics of certain, schizotypal or BPD, individuals will predispose them to psychosis proneness or mystical experience.
Experimental studies demonstrate the relative ease with which acute transpersonal states, or aspects of acute states, may be evoked in susceptible Ss including sensory vividness, time distortion, alteration of usual perception and hallucination (Deikman, 1963, 1966, Spanos & Stam, 1979). There is some evidence that mystical experience may be induced in the laboratory by electro-magnetic temporal lobe stimulation, further that due to the sensitivity of temporal lobe neurons the experience may even be learned through such stimulation (Stacey, 1988). These suggest that susceptible individuals under conditions of minimal stress exhibit a capacity for experiencing perceptual, cognitive and affective phenomena. One possible conclusion to be drawn from this is that mystical experience, hallucinogenic reaction and aspects of acute psychosis represent a special condition of receptivity to, or creative ability for, experiences ordinarily excluded in the normal state of consciousness. The ease with which such phenomena are induced suggests a latent capacity for acute experiences in normal Ss (Bowers & Freedman, 1966). The CNS may have a limited set of responses for mystical experience and acute psychosis even though the aetiology may be quite different in each case.
Mystical experience and the onset of acute psychosis appear to share phenomenologically similar characteristics, altered perception, the loss of self and euphoria seem common to both states. There is no evidence that thought disorder, a significant cognitive feature of some psychoses, particularly schizophrenia, occurs in mystical experience, while it is found in only about 10 per cent of psychiatric cases and is more characteristic of chronic and ‘type 2′ syndromes which are not closely related to mystical experience. The disorder of thought observed in acute psychosis does not appear in mystical experience but this is of equally limited occurrence in psychosis. Mystical experience appears to be differentiated from psychosis by its generally brief duration. Schizophreniform psychosis, a possible sub category of schizophrenia, is also self-limiting and often resolves without delusion, low affect or impaired social communication. One hypothesis is that such psychoses are variants of affective disorder (Pope & Lipinsky, 1978) which raises the possibility that mystical experience and acute psychosis share a common affective state with increased perceptual intensity.
The form and content of mystical experience and psychosis is determined to a significant extent by its social context and the personality of the individual. The outcome seems significantly dependant upon the socio-cultural context and social feedback received. Accounts of spiritual experiences are usually positive and meaningful while mental illness is usually experienced and described in negative, dysfunctional and pathological terms. Both experiences are often defined as ineffable despite the many accounts of them implying that such accounts are in some ways incomplete and misleading. To consider mystical experience as dysfunctional is to invalidate any meaning they may have while any relationship between mystical experience and psychosis calls into question the medical model attempt to identify a largely elusive single cause and cure (Bentall, Jackson & Pilgrim, 1988). It has been acknowledged, however, that `some mystics are badly disoriented personalities’ (Greeley, 1974)8 and that their experiences may reflect in both form and content abnormal states of mind.
James (1902) suggested the common source of both experiences. Benign (spiritual) and pathological (psychotic) experiences appear to share cognitive, affective and perceptual features, and a similar psychological process may be involved in both. The concept of a continuum between mystical experience and psychosis is tentatively endorsed suggesting that while unambiguous forms of each experience may be identified no clear borderline separates the two. This may be accounted for by a common schizotypal or borderline personality trait which underlies both forms of the experience. Highly schizotypal normals and diagnosed psychotics report relatively frequent intense mystical experiences endorsing the dimensional nature of the experience and this trait may allow for easy access to pre- or unconscious processes. Schizotypy, it is proposed, is a dimensional trait normally distributed in the general population and that normal Ss demonstrating highly schizotypal traits are more likely to demonstrate an incidence of mystical or unusual experiences comparable to mystics and psychotics. It is also suggested that there will be a significant difference between normal Ss, mystics and psychotics, in their relative degrees of psychological adjustment, namely that the psychotic will show a significantly greater degree of narcissistic self-interest and ego-grasping orientation than the mystics or normals.
Methodological Issues in Design
As noted previously mystical and psychotic experiences are clearly not accessible directly to investigation since they may be observed only indirectly by their observed effects and a posteriori via self-report. Since research is possible only on the self-descriptions of these experiences and not the experience itself this area is not easily accessible to empirical research. Some caution is required in the interpretation and analysis of data which must therefore be to some extent speculative.
A significant difference between sexes has been noted for the incidence and type of clinical psychosis (Bentall, Claridge & Slade, 1989; Raine & Allbutt, 1989; Mason, Claridge & Jackson, 1995; Muntaner, Garcia-Sevilla, Fernandez and Torrubia, 1988). Since, however, the female to male ratio of the undergraduate population from which the convenience sample is drawn is 6:1 it is to be expected that this will be reflected in the data so no significant effect of sex as a variable is expected in the data due to sampling bias.
Hood’s (1975) Mysticism Scale (M-Scale): Mystical experience has become more accessible to empirical research due o the M-Scale developed by Hood (1975). Based on the framework of Stace (1960) Hood’s inventory taps eight categories of mysticism – ego quality, unifying quality, inner subjective quality, temporal/spatial quality, noetic quality, ineffability, positive affect and religious quality. Factor analysis has established at least two factors – the range of phenomenological criteria (unity, timelessness, spacelessness) and the religious interpretation factor (positive affect and noetic quality) associated with such experiences. The M-scale has 32 items to which the Ss respond in a Likert format with 5 options ranging from “definitely true” to “definitely not true of my own experience or experiences”. Examples of statements are:- “I have had an experience which was both timeless and spaceless,” and “I have had an experience which I knew to be sacred. There is some evidence for the scale’s internal consistency and construct validity (Hood, 1975). The original principal component analysis suggested that two factors underlie the scale: Factor 1 appears to identify the minimal phenomenological experience of mysticism, while Factor 2 identifies the subjective religious interpretation (Hood 1975; Spilka, Hood and Gorusch 1985). Recent factor-analytic studies have suggested a three factor solution better represents the data (Caird, 1988).
Knoblauch and Falconer’s (1986) Ego Grasping Orientation Inventory (EGO Scale): The EGO scale is included to provide some measure of the difference in relative psychological adjustment between groups. Ego grasping is marked by an attempt at positive strategies while striving to eliminate negative aspects produced by ego-centred attempts to dominate and control experience. The EGO scale measures a pattern of behaviour and produces a numerical score which indicates an individual’s place on a presumed continuum. The continuum ranges it is suggested from ‘observational acceptance’ (Knoblauch, 1985) to ego grasping. The claimed strength of the inventory lies in its ability to measure the individual’s place on this continuum. The scale consists of 20 test items to which the subject responds “true” or “false”. The items are scored in the direction of ego grasping, for of half the items agreement with ego-grasping is scored; for the remainder disagreement with non-ego grasping was scored.
Oxford-Liverpool Inventory of Feelings and Experiences (O-LIFE): contains 159 items to which Ss respond “yes” or “no”. The items complete scales for unusual experience (UnEx), cognitive disorganisation (CogDis), introverted anhedonia (IntAn), impulsive nonconformity (ImpNon) and schizotypy (STA). In addition a lie scale is also included. The O-LIFE was administered by PC and both the O-LIFE and the additional PSQ questionnaire were scored by PC software on 3.5″ floppy disk, kindly provided by Oliver Mason of Oxford University.
Rawling’s Paranoia and Suspiciousness Questionnaire (PSQ): 95 items from this scale combine with the O-LIFE to complete scales for paranoia (PSQ), neuroticism (N), borderline personality disorder (STB) and psychoticism (P). For each item the subject responds “yes’ or “no”. The questionnaire was scored by PC alongside the O-LIFE to provide a score for each subject on each of the 13 subscales.
9 male Ss and 24 female Ss were classified and allocated to one of the following three groups:-
1) Group 1 – “Normals” – 28 Ss from an undergraduate convenience sample with an absence of psychiatric history or symptoms and no extraordinary religious practice or experience.
2) Group 2 – “Mystics” – 3 Ss known to the researcher as ‘experienced’ mystics with some years experience of meditation within a religious or spiritual framework.
3) Group 3 -“Psychotics” – 2 diagnosed psychiatric outpatients (both female) meeting DSM-IV criteria for schizophrenia with no positive symptomatology (religious delusions and hallucinations).
A convenience sample of 28 Ss drawn from an undergraduate population, 3 “mystics” and 2 schizophrenic outpatients were requested to participate in a psychological survey investigating mystical experience.
Stage one: Each subject completed the M-Scale, EGO and PSQ questionnaire. Each completed questionnaire was marked with a unique subject number code.
Stage two: Each subject then completed the O-LIFE and PSQ scales, administered by PC, by following on-screen instructions. The data for each subject was identified by the subject number code. All data for the O-LIFE and PSQ was saved to floppy disk.
Each of the questionnaires were scored blind. Scores for each of the pen and paper questionnaires for the M-Scale and EGO-Scale were combined with the scores for each subject from the data printout for the O-LIFE and PSQ to provide the raw data for the study (see Appendix 1).
Thee results indicate some support for the main hypotheses, that mystics and psychotics experience psychological states with a number of common features, namely numinosity, ineffability, transcendence, and so on. Secondly that even though ‘mystics’ score significantly higher than ‘normals’ on many of the scales with the notable exception of EXT, which as expected is correlated negatively with mysticism, such experiences are more common than generally realised perhaps, with a relatively high percentage of the normal population reporting such experiences. The only significant difference noted between the mean scores of normals and psychotics is for age; psychotics having a mean age of 43.5 years and normals with a mean age of 27.61 years. It may be postulated that there is an age factor involved in the likelihood of experiencing transpersonal states, though the factors which may contribute to this are open to further research. One interesting if odd result is the low score for psychoticism by ‘psychotics’ compared to normals and mystics which may be accounted for by a denial to accept convenient psychiatric labels which may influence Ss responses to certain scale items.
Mystics and psychotics taken together score significantly higher than normals on many of the scales in expected directions. As predicted the results demonstrate that psychotics and mystics score more highly for mysticism and unusual experience. In line with other studies (Hood, 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975; Caird, 1988; Reinert and Stifler, 1993; Stifler, Sneck, Greer and Dovenmuehle, 1993) these results support the hypothesis that these two groups may be discriminated from ‘normals’ but not from each other.
Scores for the new scales, UnEx, CogDis, IntAn and ImpNon are comparable to the norms established by Mason, Claridge & Jackson (1995), with the exception for UnEx which is slightly higher in this study. The correlation matrix and the graphical representation of correlations (see boxplots, Appendix 4) suggest highly significant positive correlations in expected directions, M with UnEx, CogDis, and IntAn, STA with STB for example, indicating that the scales may not be entirely theoretically or methodologically independent. Factor analysis indicates the stability of factorial structures across the scales while suggesting that a smaller number of factors may account for the relationships between the scales.
Recent trends in clinical research concerning the dimensionality of psychotic-like characteristics (Gottesman and Shields, 1982; Bentall, Claridge and Slade, 1989) receive their impetus from the observation that some individuals demonstrate abnormalities of personality that phenomenologically resemble psychosis but which are too mild or transient to be considered psychiatric; in many respects the features of these anomalous states are common to both mysticism and psychosis.
There is limited evidence here for the proposed concept of a continuum between mystical experience and psychosis while unambiguous forms of each experience may be identified no clear borderline separates the two. This may be accounted for by a common schizotypal or borderline personality trait which underlies both forms of the experience.
There are some reservations with the reliability and validity of the M-Scale and the suitability of the EGO scale due to an overt American terminology. Caird’s (1988) factor analytic study of Hood’s M-Scale suggests that a three factor model represents the data more accurately. Factor 1 was stable in Caird’s (1988) study, but the Interpretative category subdivided into Noetic/Ineffability (Factor 2) and Religious (Factor 3) types of interpretation. Reinert and Stifler (1993) in a replication of Caird’s (1988) factor analytic study of Hood’s (1975) M-scale (using adult Ss rather than college students, as both Hood and Caird had done) found, like Caird’s (19880 study, two factors similar to Hood’s two-component analysis reflecting Unitary and Interpretative categories of mystical experience. Reinert and Stifler’s (1993) inter-correlation of the two-factor analysis provides additional evidence for the stability of factorial structures across diverse samples and limited evidence for validity.
Reinert and Stifler’s (1993) factor analytic replication support Caird’s (1988) findings; the two-factor and three-factor solutions accounted for more common variance than the total variance explained in Hood’s two-component solution. Considerable similarities between Reinert and Stifler’s results and earlier ones tend to confirm the stability of factorial structures across diverse samples, but evidence for validity is limited. Factors yielded the same pattern of scores across groups and did not discriminate between psychotic and mystic groups. Reinert and Stifler ask whether the factors represented different aspects of mystical experience.
Results indicate that Caird’s suggestion of a three-factor solution better represents the data. The first factor remains stable. The second factor splits into two. As in Caird’s study Noetic interpretation loaded on Factor 2 and Religious interpretation on Factor 3. All Ineffability items loaded on the second factor in Reinert and Stifler’s study. Reinert and Stifler suggest that their study provides evidence that the M-scale is quite stable in factorial structures among adult Ss, but evidence for validity of the factors is weak. The study also confirms Caird’s (1988) conclusion that Hood’s (1975) M-scale has a stable structure of correlated factors. Despite some reservations the M-Scale continues to be a useful research instrument, while the reliability and validity of the new scales (O-LIFE) has yet to be fully established.
Kurtosis levels for each scale suggests that score approximate a normal distribution for EGO, UnEx, CogDis, ImpNon, STA, EXT, P and N but not M, IntAn, PSQ and STB, indicating that these latter scales may be measuring attitudes and experiences of Ss in the upper quartile, that is scoring highly for mysticism and schizotypy both of which appear to be positively correlated with significant traits of introversion, social anxiety and paranoia. It seems that Ss prone to unusual experiences or mysticism tend to demonstrate these underlying traits of introversion, cognitive disorganisation, impulsive behaviour, social anxiety and schizotypy. The overall conclusions, in support of the hypotheses are firstly, there is a significant positive relationship between underlying schizotypal and psychotic traits and the likelihood of unusual and mystical experiences. There is some limited support for the suggested dimensionality and normal distribution of underlying traits.
Overall some evidence seems to have been demonstrated for the hypothesised relationship between the self-report of mystical and unusual experience and schizotypal traits, though the nature of this relationship is not clear. The results support the comprehensive subjective and empirical literature drawing a parallel between the phenomenological similarities of mystical experience and psychosis. In addition this study confirms the previous recognition that a relatively high percentage of the normal population have such experiences (Greeley, 1975). What is less clear is the interpretation of the experience in relation to the context and eventual outcome or possible long-term effects upon individuals. In other words it is difficult to assess, in the present context, which factors contribute to the identification of what may defined as ‘odd’ or ‘abnormal’ behaviour. Some contemplative communities and mystical groups seek and actively encourage psychological states which in another context may be considered a clinical case suitable for psychiatric intervention. The conviction of mystics who claim to have experiences of a transcendental nature contrasts with the anxiety or anhedonia of psychosis to an extent that may lead to the conclusion that the experiences are in fact quite distinct but this would underestimate the context sensitivity of such experiences.
Summary and Conclusions
There is it seems a relationship between mystical experience and schizotypy or schizotypal personality disorder and that a common schizotypal trait may underlie both and further research into the nature of this relationship may prove fruitful. Some methodological considerations require attention; the development and validation of a standardised instrument based perhaps upon the M-Scale or O-LIFE for the measurement of mysticism, for example. Further factor analytic studies may be able to identify the nature, stability and characteristics of factors contributing to personality traits underlying both mystical and psychotic experience.
One of the main implications of research into the relationship between mystical experience and psychosis is the possible influence upon attitudes to individuals perceived as mentally ill and clinical practice. For example, patients in intensive units who report OOBE and encounters with angels are now less likely to be considered as suffering from transient psychosis requiring treatment with anti-psychotic medication (Lukoff & Lu, 1988). The psychometric detection and measurement of psychotic traits such as schizotypy and BPD may lead to a set of diagnostic screening procedures to identify those individuals at risk of developing more serious psychotic disorders. The results of this and further empirical research into the dimensionality of schizotypal and psychotic traits may influence the perceptions of both the medical and clerical professions regarding the recognition and validity of mystical and psychotic experiences.
Arieti, S (1976). Creativity : The Magic Synthesis. New York: Basic Books.
Bentall, R.P. & Slade, P.D. (1984). Reliability of a scale measuring disposition towards hallucination: a brief report. Personality & Individual Differences 6, 4, 527-529
Bentall, R.P., Jackson, H.F. & Pilgrim, D. (1988). Abandoning the concept of ‘schizophrenia’: Some implications of validity arguments for psychological research into psychotic phenomena. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 27, 303-324.
Bentall, R.P., Claridge, G.S. & Slade, P.D. (1989). The multidimensional nature of schizotypal traits: A factor analytic study with normal subjects. British Journal of Clinical Psychology 28, 363-375.
Bowers, M. B., Jr. & Freedman, D. X. (1966). ‘Psychedelic’ experiences in acute psychosis. Archives of General Psychiatry, 15, 240-248.
Brown, Phyllida (1994). Understanding the inner voices. New Scientist 7, 26-31
Buckley, Peter & Galanter, Marc (1979). Mystical experience, spiritual knowledge, and a contemporary ecstatic religion. British Journal of Medical Psychology 52, 281-289
Buckley, Peter (1981). Mystical experience and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin 7, 516-521
Caird, Dale (1988). The Structure of Hood’s Mysticism Scale: A Factor-Analytic Study. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 27, 1, 122-126
Chapman, J. A. (1966). The Early Symptoms of Schizophrenia. British Journal of Psychology, 112, 225-251.
Chapman, Loren J. & Chapman, Jean P. (1980). Scales for rating Psychotic and Psychotic-like Experiences as Continua. Schizophrenia Bulletin 6, 3, 476-489.
Claridge, Gordon & Broks, Paul (1984) Schizotypy and Hemisphere Function–1: Theoretical considerations and the measurement of schizotypy. Personality and Individual Differences 5, 6, 633-648.
Claridge, Gordon (1987). The Schizophrenias as Nervous Types Revisited. British Journal of Psychiatry 151, 735-743.
Crow, T. J. (1980). Molecular pathology of schizophrenia: more than one disease process?. British Medical Journal 280, 66-68.
Custance, J. (1952) Wisdom, Madness and Folly. New York: Pellegrini and Cudahy.
Deikman, A. J. (1966). De-Automisation and the mystic experience. Psychiatry 29, 481-489.
Eckblad, Mark & Chapman, Loren J. (1983). Magical Ideation as an indicator of Schizotypy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51, 2, 215-225.
Freedman, B. & Chapman, L. J. (1973). Early subjective experiences in schizophrenic episodes. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 82, 46-54.
Goold, P.J. (1991). An investigation into the significance and employment of religious beliefs in schizophrenia. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Southampton.
Greeley, A. M. (1964). Ecstasy. A way of knowing. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Greeley, A. M. (1975). The Sociology of the Paranormal : A Reconnaissance. Sage Research Papers in the Social Sciences (Studies in Religion and Ethnicity series No; 90-023). Beverley Hill/London: Sage Publications.
Grove, William, M. (1982). Psychometric Detection of Schizotypy. Psychological Bulletin 92, 1, 27-38.
Hood, Ralph W. Jnr. (1970). Religious Orientation and the Report of Religious Experience. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 9, 4, 285-291.
Hood, Ralph W. Jnr. (1973). Religious Orientation and the Experience of Transcendence. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 12, 441-448.
Hood, Ralph W. Jnr. (1974). Psychological Strength and the Report of Intense Religious Experience. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 13, 65-71.
Hood, Ralph W., Jnr. (1975). The Construction and Preliminary Validation of a Measure of Reported Mystical Experience. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 14, 29-41
Hood, Ralph, W. Jnr., Hall, James, R., Watson, P.J., Biderman, Michael (1979). Personality correlates of the report of mystical experience. Psychological Reports 44, 804-806.
James, William (1936). Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Modern Library.
Jaynes, Julian (1993). The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Middlesex: Penguin Books.
Jung, C. G. (1956). Modern Man in Search of a Soul. London; Kegan Paul.
Knoblauch, David L. & Falconer, Judith A. (1986). The Relationship of a Measured Taoist Orientation to Western Personality Dimensions. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 18, 1, 73-83.
Lukoff, David (1988). Transpersonal Perspectives on Manic Psychosis: Creative, Visionary, and Mystical States. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 20, 2, 111-139.
Lukoff, David & Lu, Francis, G. (1988). Transpersonal Psychology Research Review Topic: Mystical Experience. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 20, 2, 161-184.
Mason, Oliver, Claridge, Gordon & Jackson, Mike (1995). New Scales for the Assessment of Schizotypy. Personality and Individual Differences 18, 1, 7-13.
Mavromatis, Andreas (1987). Hypnagogia: the unique state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep London: Routledge.
Muntaner, C., Garcia-Seville, L., Fernandez, A., & Torrubia, R., (1988). Personality dimensions, schizotypal and borderline personality traits and psychosis proneness. Personality and Individual Differences 9, 237-49.
Podvoll, Edward (1979). Psychosis and the Mystic Path. The Psychoanalytic Review 66, 3, 571-590.
Raine, Adrian & Albutt, John (1989). Factors of schizoid personality. British Journal of Clinical Psychology 28, 31-40.
Raine, Adrian (1992). Sex differences in Schizotypal Personality in a Nonclinical Population. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 101, 2, 361-364.
Raskin, R.N. & Hall, C.S. (1979). A Narcisisstic Personality Inventory. Psychological Reports 45, 590.
Reinert, D.F., Stifler, Kenneth, R., (1993). Hood’s Mysticism Scale Revisited: A Factor-Analytic Replication. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 32, 4, 383-88.
Russel, Roberta (1994). Do you have a spiritual disorder? (DSM-IV) The Psychologist 8, 384.
Stace, W. T. (1960). Mysticism and Philosophy. Philadelphia: Lippincott.
Stacey, D. (December, 1988). Transcending Science. Omni, 55-60, 114-16.
Stifler, K., Greer, J., Sneck, W., Dovenmuehle, R. (1993). An empirical investigation of the discriminability of reported mystical experiences among religious contemplatives, psychotic inpatients, and normal adults. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 32, 4, 336-72.
Szasz, T. (1979). Schizoophrenia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Underhill, E. (1930). Mysticism. A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. London: Methuen & Co.
Zaehner, Richard, C. (1967). Mysticism: Sacred and profane. London: Oxford University Press.